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 Last Modified Date : 21.09.2008

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THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR

 

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici), popularly known as the Knights Templar or the Order of the Temple (French: Ordre du Temple or Templiers), were among the most famous of the Christian military orders.
 
The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle Ages. It was created in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096, to ensure the safety of the large numbers of European pilgrims who flowed toward Jerusalem after its conquest.
 
Officially endorsed by the church in 1129, the Order became a favored charity across Europe. It grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, easily recognizable in their white mantle with a distinct red cross, made some of the best equipped, trained, and disciplined fighting units of the Crusades. Non-warrior members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating many financial techniques that were an early form of banking, and building numerous fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.
 

A Seal of the Knights Templar

The Templars' success was tied closely to the success of the Crusades. When the Holy Land was lost and the Templars suffered crushing defeats, support for the Order's existence faded. Rumors about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order, began pressuring Pope Clement V to take action. On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip had many of the Order's members, including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, arrested, tortured into "confessions", and burned at the stake. In 1312, Pope Clement, under continuing pressure from King Philip, forcibly disbanded the entire Order.

 

 

Rise

After the First Crusade resulted in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, many European pilgrims headed for the area to visit what they referred to as The Holy Places. But although the city was under relative control, the rest of the Outremer was not. Bandits abounded, and pilgrims were routinely slaughtered, sometimes by the hundreds, as they attempted to make the journey from the coastline at Jaffa into the Holy Land.

A Knight TemplarAround 1119, French knight Hugues de Payens and his relative Godfrey de Saint-Omer, veterans of the First Crusade, proposed the creation of a monastic order for the protection of these pilgrims. King Baldwin II of Jerusalem agreed to their request, and gave them a headquarters in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount, in the captured Al Aqsa Mosque. The Temple Mount had a mystique, because it was above what was believed to be the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. The Crusaders therefore referred to the Al Aqsa Mosque as Solomon's Temple, and it was from this location that the Order took its name of Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or "Templar" knights. With few financial resources, the tiny Order of approximately nine knights had to rely on donations to survive. Their emblem displayed two knights riding on a single horse, emphasizing their poverty.

The Templars' impoverished status did not last long. The Order had a powerful patron in Bernard of Clairvaux, a leading church figure and a nephew of one of the founding knights. He spoke and wrote persuasively on their behalf, and in 1129 at the Council of Troyes, the Order was officially endorsed by the church. With this formal blessing, the Templars became a favored charity across Europe, receiving money, land, businesses, and noble-born sons from families who were eager to help with the fight in the Holy Land. Another major benefit came in 1139, when Pope Innocent II's papal bull Omne Datum Optimum exempted the Order from obedience to local laws. This ruling meant that the Templars could pass freely through all borders, were not required to pay any taxes, and were exempt from all authority except that of the Pope.

Fall

1187's Battle of the Horns of Hattin, the turning point in the Crusades. In the mid-1100s, the tide began turning in the Crusades. The Muslim world was more united under effective leaders such as Saladin, and dissension rose between the Christian factions. The Knights Templar were occasionally at odds with the two other great Christian orders, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, and decades of internecine feuds weakened the Christian positions. After several disastrous battles including the pivotal Battle of the Horns of Hattin, Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187. The Crusaders retook the city in 1229 (without Templar help), but held it just briefly. In 1244, the Khawarizmi Turks recaptured Jerusalem, and the city would not again be under Christian control, until 1917 when the British took control from the Ottoman Turks.

The Templars were forced to relocate their headquarters to other cities in the north, such as the seaport of Acre, which they held for the next century. But they lost that too in 1291, followed by their last mainland strongholds, Tortosa (in what is now Syria) and Atlit. This left them with only an offshore headquarters in Limassol, Cyprus,[14] and a garrison on tiny Arwad Island, just off the coast from Tortosa. They tried to establish an alliance with the Mongols,[15] and attempted to build a new invasion force at Arwad. In 1302, however, they lost that island as well, their last foothold in the Holy Land.

Arrests and dissolution

King Philip IV of France (1268–1314)King Philip IV of France (1268–1314)In 1305, the new Pope Clement V, based in France, sent letters to both Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and Hospitaller Grand Master Fulk de Villaret, discussing the possibility of a merging of the two Orders. Neither was amenable to the idea, but Pope Clement persisted, and in 1306 he invited both Grand Masters to France to discuss the matter. De Molay arrived first, in early 1307, though de Villaret was delayed for several months. While waiting for him, De Molay and Clement discussed charges that had been made two years earlier by an ousted Templar. It was generally agreed that the charges were false, but Clement wrote to King Philip IV of France, also known as Phillip the Fair, to request his help in the investigation. King Philip, however, decided to seize upon the Templar rumors for his own financial needs. He was deeply in debt to the Templars as a result of his war with the English, and he began pressuring the church to take action against the Order in order to free himself from his debts.

On Friday, October 13, 1307 (a date incorrectly linked to the origin of the Friday the 13th legend), Philip had Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars simultaneously arrested, charged with numerous heresies, and tortured, forcing false confessions of various blasphemies. Despite the fact that the confessions had been produced under duress, they caused a scandal in Paris. In response to more bullying from King Philip, Pope Clement then issued the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, which instructed all Christian monarchs in Europe to arrest all Templars and seize their assets.

Papal hearings were convened to determine the Templars' guilt or innocence. Once freed of the Inquisitors' torture, many Templars recanted their confessions. Some had sufficient legal experience to defend themselves in the trials, but Philip wouldn't allow it, and in 1310 used the previously forced confessions to have dozens of Templars burned at the stake in Paris.

With Philip threatening military action unless the Pope agreed to comply with his wishes, Clement finally agreed to disband the Order, citing the public scandal that had been generated by the confessions. At the Council of Vienne in 1312, he issued a series of papal bulls, including Vox in excelso, which officially dissolved the Order, and Ad providam, which turned over most Templar assets to the Hospitallers.

Convent of Christ in Castle Tomar, Portugal. Built in 1160 as a stronghold for the Knights Templar, it became the headquarters of the renamed Order of Christ. In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As for the last remaining leaders of the Order, the elderly Grand Master Jacques de Molay, who had confessed under torture, retracted his statement. His associate Geoffrey de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, followed de Molay's example and did the same, insisting on his innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics, and sentenced to death by being burned alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314.

Legends and relics

The Knights Templar have become associated with legends concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times. Rumors circulated even during the time of the Templars themselves. Freemasonic writers added their own speculations in the 19th century, and further fictional embellishments have been added in modern movies and best-selling novels such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ivanhoe, National Treasure, Foucault's Pendulum, The Last Templar, and The Da Vinci Code.

The best known of the Templar legends are connected with the Order's early occupation of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and speculation about what relics the Templars may have found there, such as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant. That the Templars were known to be in possession of some relics is certain. Even today, many churches display relics such as the bones of a saint, a scrap of cloth that a holy man once wore, or perhaps even the skull of a martyr. The Templars did the same. They were documented as having a piece of the True Cross, which the Bishop of Acre carried into battle with them at the disastrous Horns of Hattin. When the battle was lost, Saladin captured the relic, which was then ransomed back to the Crusaders when the Muslims surrendered the city of Acre in 1191. They were also known to possess the head of Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon. The subject of relics also came up during the Inquisition of the Templars, as several trial documents refer to the worship of an idol of some type, referred to in some cases as a severed head, and in some cases as Baphomet.

There was particular interest during the Crusader era in the Holy Grail myth, which was quickly associated with the Templars, even in the 12th century. The first Grail romance, the fantasy story Le Conte du Graal, was written in 1180 by Chrétien de Troyes, who came from the same area where the Council of Troyes had officially sanctioned the Templars' Order. In Arthurian legend, the hero of the Grail quest, Sir Galahad (a 13th-century literary invention of monks from St. Bernard's Cistercian Order), was depicted bearing a shield with the cross of Saint George, similar to the Templars' insignia. In a chivalric epic of the period, Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to Templars guarding the Grail Kingdom. A legend developed that since the Templars had their headquarters at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, they must have excavated in search of relics, found the Grail, and then proceeded to keep it in secret and guard it with their lives. However, there is no historical record of the Templars ever having the Holy Grail in their possession. In the extensive documents of the Templar inquisition, there was never a single mention of anything like a Grail relic, and most scholars agree that the story of the Grail was just that—a fiction that began circulating in medieval times. One legendary artifact that does have some connection with the Templars is the Shroud of Turin. In 1357, the shroud was first publicly displayed by the family of the grandson of Geoffrey de Charney, the Templar who had been burned at the stake with the Order's last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, in 1314. The artifact's origins are still a matter of controversy, but carbon dating indicates that the shroud may have been made between 1260 and 1390, a span that includes the last half-century of the Templars.
 

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Knights Templar". 

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